Guantánamo: Who Created this Chaos?

For all the rhetoric associated with a naval base, there’s something absurd about Guantánamo. It’s an absurdity so perpetual that it reads like fiction. Yet, it’s the perceptible horror of wasted and infirm men imprisoned without trial for more than a decade that interweaves a concrete dreadfulness so convincing that it now spawns a wave of disgust around the world.

In this infamous detention center, a hunger strike has grown in strength as more than 100 detainees are suffering a rebellion of unprecedented measure.  Violating the central principles of medical ethics, 23 more are being force-fed through their noses and five have been hospitalized.  Uncharged yet imprisoned and with their cases mired in legal limbo, they deteriorate in ceaseless pain.

Undoubtedly, Guantanamo questions the sensitivity of the US as a leader in human rights.  The values established by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights have been inverted and the sound of protest and distaste are everywhere. The International Red Cross is seriously concerned about the deterioration of the psychological health of the detainees and in the eyes of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, “the continued operation of the Guantanamo prison is a clear breach of international law.”

Critics charge that the savagery of this  conduct equates a modern day Soviet Gulag, the German Concentration Camps, or even Saddam’s Iraqi torture chambers. Truly, Guantanamo is an ‘emblem of suffering and shame’ where uncertainty and death share a parallel universe.

Guantanamo is a portrayal of institutionalized dehumanization. It is the manifestation of the decay of morality which, in the bitter end, flaws not only those who clinch it but the entire American nation.

But while the Guantanamo prisoners’ hunger strike is an intrepid, frantic, deadly act of defiance which President Obama should immediately address in order to fulfill his first presidential executive order, it must also be seen that many of the Republicans who control the House of Representatives and the Senate are relentlessly opposed to either releasing any of the prisoners or moving them to secure facilities on the US mainland.

Congress has barred transfers of any detainees to the United States because they would be deemed a security threat in the US and have erected substantial barriers to transfers even to other countries. Republicans in Congress are continuing their impasse by saying that ‘there are things the President could have already been doing right now- things that he could have been doing for some time.’

This opposition by Republicans serves as an indictment of Obama’s leadership to complicate political and human rights issues. It also gives them the forum to garner publicity to fulfill their political agendas — an act that malignly misrepresents reality, and presents a deluded picture that entirely fails to comprehend the pain of the detainees.

It is true that the ban on transfers to Yemen was created by the president after the attempted underwear bombing of the Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas in 2009. However, even after the President reiterates “the idea that we would still maintain forever a group of individuals who have not been tried, that is contrary to who we are, it is contrary to our interests, and needs to stop,” Congress keeps standing in the way of fulfilling his promise to close the prison.

Plausibly enough, Harvard constitutional and international law Professor Noah Feldman contends that one of the ways the president can reclaim the U.S.’s reputation without being held hostage by Congress is by appealing to the laws of the Geneva Conventions and to the Supreme Court.

But then again it must be remembered that former President Bush issued his own interpretation of the Geneva Conventions in an executive order and relied on the opinions of the Justice Department which still today remains questionable. Congress did not pass legislation that formally reinterpreted US compliance with the Geneva Conventions. Effectively, former president Bush violated international human rights law with Congress’s hushed acquiescence.

Charlie Savage of the New York Times confirms that “the Supreme Court upheld the power of the government to detain individuals captured on the battlefield until the end of the hostilities against the global al Qaeda network, but provided no indication how long this non-traditional armed conflict could last.”

Thus, it appears that the answer to this debacle lies in the hand of the courts. The paradigm worked for Mr. Bush. It should also work for Mr. Obama.

It is absurd Professor Feldman further writes “that the commander in chief can’t do what he believes is in the country’s national interests when it comes to detainees. Win, lose or draw, it is time to get around Congress.”

Evidently, if Congress has the constitutional authority to enact legislation to supersede the Geneva Conventions, why aren’t they using it?

Even as the Center for Constitutional Rights  calls on Defense Secretary  Hagel to “use his authority to issue the certifications on national security waivers required by the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA 2013) to effect transfers from Guantánamo; the appointment  of  an individual within the White House to lead the effort to close Guantánamo make the case to Congress and the American people for removing the remaining transfer restrictions and closing the detention facility  and  ensure that all detained men are either charged and fairly tried in criminal court or released to countries that will respect their human rights,”  if the demands are not met,  it is former president Bush and not president Obama who will go down in history for his embrace of torture and bear responsibility for the colossal destruction that it  has caused.

Rebecca Theodore is a national security and political op-ed columnist based in Atlanta GA. Her work has appeared in various newsprint throughout the Caribbean, Canada and the US. Follow her on twitter @rebethd Read other articles by Rebecca.